Recording of the Month

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J. Gordon Holt Posted: Oct 24, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 1987 0 comments
Copland: Appalachian Spring (Suite), Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson, An Outdoor Overture (CD only)
Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Clark/Marni Nixon (soprano)
Reference Recordings LP RR-2 and CD RR-22CD. Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng.

This is unquestionably one of the best recordings Reference Recordings has done. The sound of the LP is up-front and quite bright, giving the orchestra that peculiarly nasal quality I usually associate with small French orchestras. There is truly remarkable detail and naturalness here; I was about to write that the recording makes the orchestra sound very small and pinched in Appalachian Spring when I noticed on the record jacket that this is the "Original version for 13 instruments." Okay, so I know what it costs to hire musicians in the US, but I still prefer the version of this work scored for full, bombastic, overblown 108-piece symphony orchestra. The 13 instruments are superbly balanced, though—even the piano, which is usually (and wrongfully) relegated to behind the orchestra. About a half a block behind it.

Robert Baird Posted: Sep 25, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 2013 0 comments
The most indelicate, if not gory, term in all of music is the ever-popular "bleeding chunks." The bane of classical audiences cursed with lazy pops conductors, bleeding chunks are movements of works—or even parts of movements—strung together in that abomination known as a medley. The effect can be, I guess, soothing to those who, for example, know only a little about Mozart. But for anyone well versed in their Wolfy, these programs are jarring, and can produce involuntarily grinding of those cavity-prone back molars.
Harold Lynn Posted: Sep 18, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 1987 11 comments
Duruflé: Requiem; Fauré: Requiem
Blegen, Morris, Shaw, Atlanta SO and Chorus.
Telarc 80135 (CD). Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DDD. TT: 74:23

To have two Requiems by French composers on the same disc certainly invites comparisons. Superficially similar, the works are actually quite different: both are conceived for small-scale performance, both rely on the organ, and neither places any great demands on chorus or orchestra. The differences concern mood and even intent. Fauré's Requiem, composed between 1887 and 1890, has survived all kinds of performances, both amateur and professional, without losing its ability to move hearers with its gentle hymn for the dead. The Duruflé, composed in 1947, has not achieved this kind of public appeal. A commissioned work, and not unified in style, this requiem is enjoyed by those who sing it; audiences tend to find it bland.

Margaret Graham Posted: Sep 13, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 1983 1 comments
683rotm.jpgJAMES WELCH: Magnum Opus
James Welch, Organist, and D.A. Flentrop, Organ-builder.
Wilson Audio W8111 (LP). David Wilson, eng.

Hearing this organ gives one delusions of grandeur! How wonderful to be rich as Croesus and be able to commission an organ like this for one's (baronial) home. At any rate, those of us who don't live in Seattle can hear it at home, thanks to this superb recording.

True to its title, this is as much a recording of the organ as it is of the organist. Full specifications are given on the back, and although it is not Flentrop's largest organ in terms of number of ranks of pipes, it is physically the largest: it contains a 32-foot Pedal Prestant which emits a floor-shuddering 16Hz!

Robert Baird Posted: Aug 28, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 3 comments
David Chesky: Jazz in the New Harmonic
David Chesky, piano; Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Peter Washington, bass; Billy Drummond, drums
Chesky JD358 (CD). 2013. Norman Chesky, exec prod.; David Chesky, prod.; Nicholas Prout, prod., eng. DDD.? TT: 69:15.
Performance ****
Sonics *****

If there's a word that describes the feeling, the vibe present throughout Jazz in the New Harmonic, it's trance. Pianist and session leader David Chesky even uses it without prompting when asked how, among all his music endeavors—an album of difficult non–Joplin-like New York Rags in 2012, a children's ballet later this year, not to mention running Chesky Records—he found the time or inspiration to make a straight-ahead jazz record.

Margaret Graham Posted: Aug 16, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 1983 0 comments
669rotmwild.jpgEARL WILD: The Art of the Transcription
Earl Wild, piano, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on November 1, 1981
Audiofon 2008-2 (2 LPs). Julian Kreeger, prod., Peter McGrath, eng. AAA

It takes nerve for a performer to allow an entire concert to be recorded for release on disc. It also takes extraordinary confidence in one's technique. Mistakes that are overlooked in the live experience become snags for the ear in the recorded version. One starts to listen for them and loses the musical experience in its totality.

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 23, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 2013 4 comments
For all those who hold dear the notion that jazz has seen its best days—that, like classical music, it now lacks star power (no more Birds, Mileses, or Coltranes on the marquees), has already said much of what it had to say, and what's left is merely esoteric noodling or soulless bop-by-rote mopping up—there is Terence Blanchard. Once the archetypal sideman, this New Orleanian contemporary of Donald Harrison and Wynton Marsalis has become a successful leader. His poise, generous spirit, and workaholic lifestyle —not to mention his instantly recognizable trumpet tone—have quietly made him one of the leading figures in today's jazz mainstream.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 11, 2013 Published: Feb 11, 1984 6 comments
BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in G, Op.96
ENESCU: Violin Sonata No.3, Op.25 (In Rumanian Style)

David Abel, violin, Julie Steinberg, piano
Wilson Audio W-8315 (LP). David Wilson, prod., eng. AAA.

Oh, what a breath of fresh air this is! An audiophile recording of real music that isn't bombastic, overblown, or high-powered.

Imagine, if you can, a private recital in your own home by two consummate artists who play these works for their own delight as much as for yours. Imagine sound so completely and disarmingly natural that after 30 seconds you're unaware it's reproduced. That's what this record is all about.

I could rhapsodize endlessly about this record, but I won't. Suffice it to say that if you think there's even a remote chance you'll like this music, you will be positively mesmerized by this recording of it . . .

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 24, 2013 Published: Jul 01, 2013 0 comments
Pedrito Martinez: Rumba de la Isla
Pedrito Martinez, vocals, congas, chekere, cowbell; Niño Josele, guitar, clapping; Alfredo de la Fé, electric violin; John Benítez, acoustic & electric bass; Pirana, cajón, clapping; Román Díaz, batas, cajón, spoons, vocals; Xiomara "La Voz" Laugart, Abraham Rodríguez, backing vocals
Calle 54/Sony Masterworks 8876 540607 2 (CD). 2013. Nat Chediak, Fernando Trueba, prods.; Jim Anderson, eng. DAD? TT: 50:20
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Cross-cultural mashups are all the rage. There's the BlueBrass mix of New Orleans brass band and bluegrass, reviewed in this issue. The Border Music project mixes David Hidalgo's Norteño/East L.A. rock with Marc Ribot's downtown New York jazz. Here, conguero Pedrito Martinez, born in Cuba but based in New York City, successfully crosses Afro-Cuban rumba with Andalusian flamenco to celebrate the work of flamenco composer and singer Camarón de la Isla. Born José Monje Cruz, de la Isla is probably best known outside Spain for his collaborations with guitarist Paco de Lucía; together they made nine records, and toured extensively throughout the 1970s. De la Isla died in 1992 at the age of 41.

Stephen Mejias Posted: May 29, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 2013 3 comments
Though classically trained in flute and exceedingly capable on a wide range of other instruments, including drums, trombone, piano, and various electronics, Aidan Baker is best known for his work on acoustic and electric guitar. A perusal of his unofficial discography on Discogs.com reveals some 80 full-length albums, and another couple dozen singles, EPs, and compilation credits. Beyond merely prolific, Baker's recorded output is profound—and nearly impossible to chart.
Robert Baird Posted: Apr 29, 2013 Published: May 01, 2013 0 comments
Doug MacLeod: There's a Time
Reference RR-130 (HDCD). 2013. Doug MacLeod, Janice Mancuso, prods.; Keith O. Johnson, Sean Royce Martin, engs. DDD? TT: 58:00
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Like a lot of other once-pure forms of American music, the blues today has become a swirl of influences, mixing folk, rock, rhythm & blues, and even Latin flavors into a music that its aficionados—that fervent contingent known as "blues nuts"—have grudgingly accepted as being a part of the music they adore. But if blues fans thought Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan muddied the wellsprings of the Devil's own music, it'll be only a matter of time before rappers mix blues in with their beats, and then—horror of horrors!—dance music begins to "borrow" from da blues. Rather than resist these changes, blues fans should willingly embrace any new energies brought into the music; rather than ruin, these fresh ideas and passions may actually revitalize a musical form that many already see as a museum piece.

Thomas Conrad Posted: Mar 28, 2013 Published: Apr 01, 2013 3 comments
Around the last decade of the previous century, something significant happened in jazz. Suddenly, many of the best players were no longer Americans. Actually, it was not sudden. It was a gradual flowering that achieved critical mass and could no longer be overlooked.
Robert Baird Posted: Feb 26, 2013 Published: Mar 01, 2013 1 comments
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon
Nonesuch 534285-2 (CD/HDTracks download). 2013. Brian Ahern, prod.; Donivan Cowart, eng.; John Baldwin, Noland O'Boyle, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 41:04
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

A recent survey of my teenaged nephew and his friends turned up a number of musical trends both predictable and surprising. It sent them into paroxysms of disbelief and laughter when the old-man uncle asked whether they liked any guitar bands, like, say . . . Green Day. Guitar bands, to say the least, ain't cool. Pop-oriented hip-hop artists like Wiz Khalifa are. So are white, pop-rock "country" singers like Jason Aldean, whom teenaged boys, even in the age of piracy, continue to spend money on, be it downloads or a CD to rip.

Robert Baird Posted: Jan 30, 2013 Published: Feb 01, 2013 2 comments
Clifford Brown/Max Roach: The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Emarcy Albums
Clifford Brown, trumpet; Max Roach, drums; Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone; Richie Powell, piano; George Morrow, bass
Mosaic MRLP 3004 (4 LPs). 1954–56/2012. Bob Shad, orig. prod.; Michael Cuscuna, reissue prod.; Ryan Smith, remastering. ADA.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Trumpeter Clifford Brown's death in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on June 26, 1956—his second wedding anniversary—set up an eternity of unanswerables headed by the belief, among many, that had Brownie lived, his star would now be as high as or higher than that of Miles Davis.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Dec 26, 2012 Published: Jan 01, 2013 2 comments
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Wolfgang Windgassen, George London, Gustav Neidlinger, Gerhard Stolze, Gottlob Frick, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kirsten Flagstadt, Set Svanholm, James King, Régine Crespin, Christa Ludwig, many others; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti
Decca 0289 478 3702 2 (17 CDs, 1 BD, 1 DVD). 1958–66/1997/2012. John Culshaw, prod.; Gordon Parry, eng.; James Lock (1997), Philip Siney (2012), remastering. ADD. TT: 14:36:56 (Ring only)
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Gramophone called it "the recording of the [20th] century"; Stereophile named it No.1 of the 40 essential recordings of all time. Fifty-four years after the first Rheingold sessions, there is still nothing like this history-making first studio recording—by conductor Georg Solti, the Vienna Philharmonic, and producer John Culshaw—of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, originally taped and released on LP from 1958 to 1966. The unsurpassed quality of singers and orchestra, Solti's astonishing ability to tell a dramatic story in music, the epic scope and sweep of work and performance—and the sound, as much a wonder for our own time as half a century ago—make these recordings seem more precious, their combinations of qualities less likely to ever be repeated, with every passing year.

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